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How to Take Control Away From a Narcissist

About Brette Sember, JD | Divorce.com

By Brette Sember, JD Updated Dec 20, 2023

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Narcissism is a personality disorder that makes a person unable to empathize with others, resulting in them perpetually seeking attention and admiration because they need to feed themselves with these things.

However, narcissists generally have low self-worth and act out when they do not receive love or attention.

If you are in a relationship with or divorcing a narcissist, it can be incredibly difficult to engage with them in a healthy and equitable manner. Taking power away from a narcissist is challenging, but it is possible to protect yourself, and your children.

Follow these tips for dealing with a narcissist.

Key Takeaways

  • The first step in taking control away from a narcissist is to identify that they are a narcissist. Remember that a true diagnosis requires a mental health professional, but you may note narcissistic tendencies in your partner or previous partner.
  • Narcissists are dangerous because they are emotionally manipulative, as well as more prone to aggression.
  • Firm boundaries are essential.
  • Prioritize your self-care, focusing on developing confidence that you deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.
  • Understand you will never change them.
  • Communicate clearly when you must deal with them, preferably in writing.
  • Do not try to please them.
  • Do not share with them, as it will be used to manipulate you.
  • Refuse to engage in arguments.
  • Control your emotions so that they can see.
  • Use visualization or deep breathing, as well as time and space, to manage yourself around them.
  • Therapists and attorneys can help you manage a narcissist.

Identifying a Narcissist

You may suspect that someone you are in a relationship with is a narcissist. If you aren't sure, here are key traits that indicate narcissism:

  • They have a grandiose impression of their own self-importance.
  • They frequently fantasize about how they deserve power, love, success, fulfillment, and more.
  • They believe firmly in their own superiority over others.
  • They desperately seek admiration.
  • They have a massive sense of entitlement.
  • They happily exploit and use other people.
  • They have a lack of empathy.
  • They often feel envious of others.
  • They are arrogant.
  • They have a fear of being vulnerable.
  • They are perfectionists.
  • They cannot handle failure.
  • They react with rage to criticism.
  • They avoid situations that may lead to failure or vulnerability.

Narcissists generally don't display all of these traits, but if the person in your life has many of these characteristics, they are likely a narcissist.

Reasons Narcissists Are Dangerous

Narcissists are dangerous in relationships because they are emotionally harmful and sometimes physically aggressive. They are talented manipulators and use others to get what they want.

Narcissists often come off as charming or engaging at first, but their sense of entitlement lies just beneath the surface, and they then use their social skills to get what they want.

One study found that narcissism correlates to a 21% increase in aggressive behavior and an 18% increase in violence, which means you could potentially be in physical danger from the narcissist, suggesting it is important for you to have your eyes wide open when dealing with them.

Narcissists thrive on drama and want all attention on them, so they are happy to create situations that may be detrimental to others if it puts the spotlight on them. They do not experience shame or empathy, so harming others is a non-issue to them.

Narcissists also doubt others' expertise and always believe that they know best. They will make decisions that promote their interests and subsequently harm others, simply to get what they believe is the best outcome for them.

Relationships with narcissists tend to be short and destructive to the other partner. While the narcissist moves on without looking back, the victim of the narcissist often requires years of recovery.

Additionally, one study of inmates found that over 21% were narcissists, suggesting a high criminal-to-narcissist ratio.

Tips to Take Control Away From a Narcissist

If you absolutely must continue to engage with a narcissist, there are some strategies you can use to make the situation more manageable. To take power away from a narcissist, consider the following recommendations.

Set Clear Boundaries

The narcissist always puts themselves first. To protect yourself, it is crucial to clearly establish boundaries and clarify what you will and will not allow in your interactions with them. If you do not set boundaries, they will take advantage of you.

Once you enunciate boundaries, you can refer to them when their behavior gets out of control.

Boundaries can include:

  • Refusing to allow them to attack you verbally
  • Physical space
  • Restrictions on when and how you will communicate
  • Time limits on conversations
  • Ending conversations when boundaries are crossed

Some people find it helpful to think of these boundaries as “policies” for the narcissist in their lives, taking some of the emotional edge off the idea of setting boundaries. Like any good policy, it is important to have these boundaries clear prior to interacting with the narcissist.

Have Confidence in What You Deserve

A narcissist only thinks about what they want. They love to make you doubt yourself. It's up to you to develop self-worth and decide what you deserve.

You have to nurture self-confidence recognizing what you are entitled to as a human, and to be able to distinguish when you are right. A narcissist will always place you on the defensive and expect you to give in and apologize for things that are not your fault.

You must have healthy self-esteem and remind yourself of how you are entitled to be treated by others. This is another time that reflecting back on policy can be helpful - you wouldn’t let anyone else treat you this way, why would you let the narcissist?

couple spend time at home

Prioritize Yourself

Putting yourself first can be very hard if you are a people pleaser or have consistently kowtowed to a narcissist. Yet, not putting yourself first will never break the cycle of the narcissist and their treatment of you.

You MUST meet your needs before theirs and do whatever you have to to stay mentally and emotionally healthy when interacting with them, even if you need a witness or need to remove yourself or postpone an interaction.

Realize You Cannot Change Them

The personality traits that make a narcissist so challenging to deal with are deeply embedded. Emotional abuse is second nature to them. The only way they can change is through therapy or significant self-work.

You cannot change them, so don't even try. Instead, see them clearly for who they are and accept it. Don't think you can do something to help them change or see the light.

Communicate Clearly

Narcissists love to gaslight you, so always be decisive and clear with your communications with them so there is no gray area that can be exploited. Offer them only facts and do not share vulnerabilities with them. Be concise and authoritative.

Communicate in writing whenever possible so there is a record of the conversation. If need be, work with your therapist or coach to craft statements that share as little as possible.

Stop Trying to Please Them

A narcissist's entire game is about getting you to meet their unrealistic demands. You don't have to please them, and quite frankly, it is nearly impossible to do so. Instead, direct your energies to satisfying yourself and meeting the goals that you set for yourself.

It can take time to break out of a people-pleasing mode, but it is essential to do so when dealing with a narcissist.

Say No

It sounds simple, but it can be challenging to say no and refuse to be manipulated and gaslit by the narcissist in your life. Rely on your boundaries and stick by them. Be assertive in protecting yourself.

Push back on their demands by maintaining your own decisions. Don't feel a need to explain or apologize for doing so.

Remember - you get to be the C.E.O. of your own life.

Keep Things to Yourself

When you cut off the flow of information to the narcissist, they have less and less to work with in their ploy to manipulate you. Don't share things you know they will use against you, and do not discuss emotionally significant things to you.

Carefully dole out curated pieces of information in a controlled way.

boyfriend looking camera

Avoid Arguments

You'll never win an argument with a narcissist because they always believe they are right. There's no point in arguing because they are using the discussion only to build up their own opinion of themselves.

They will never concede, and they won't apologize. So don't waste your time engaging in conflict.

Contain Your Emotions

Narcissists live to get reactions from other people. They love nothing more than to see you react to them with anger, hurt, or sadness. Don't give them what they want. Lock down your expression of emotions when around them, and be as expressionless as possible.

This can be hard to do when their every word is calculated to create a reaction in you, but it becomes easier over time.

Bonus Tip

When confronted with an out-of-control narcissist, it can be hard to control your emotions. If you find it challenging to do this, visualize something lovely and pleasant in front of you instead of the person striving to get a reaction from you.

Look at their forehead above their eyes so that it appears you are looking in their eyes. Let your face show the calmness, happiness, and peace you feel when visualizing what you have chosen to focus on.

They will think you are actually looking at them and having a serene reaction. They will know you have detached and that they have no control to bring you back to them.

How to Get Help

If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, a therapist or coach can help you learn how to engage with them effectively. If you are divorcing a narcissist, you may need the help of a mediator or attorney to help you get them to agree to work through the process civilly.

Final Thoughts

It can be challenging to disarm and take control away from a narcissist, but you have every right to protect yourself from emotional abuse. In addition to our tips, don't hesitate to get mental health help to support you through your journey with the narcissist.

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